‘The Masterplan’ Review

Simultaneously simple and complex to play, Shark Attack’s 2D top-down, squad-based heist game The Masterplan starts off small in ambition, but quickly becomes more and more of a tactical, problem-solving machine.

President Nixon’s declaration of the war on drugs, crime, and inflation in the ’70s provides The Masterplan with the perfect set-up to justify the game’s necessary criminal activity. Joey Green, the game’s starting character, is a victim of this situation. The Masterplan starts players out in a jail cell as it introduces the game’s tutorial. After managing to escape prison, Joey meets up with his brother to form quite the effective duo for their criminal destiny.

The Green brothers work together just as well as any other cronies

After the story sets itself up, the game’s mechanics begin to overshadow the narrative. Controls are fluid and crisp, allowing you to select multiple characters to move at a time. Keyboard shortcuts for movements and actions are introduced in the loading screens, as well, helping players to more effectively maneuver around environments. Character’s pathing can lead to some frustrating complications in conjunction with the obstacles found in each level. This is often a bigger deal than it sounds as it compels you restart the heist from the game’s menu due to nearly unrecoverable situations.

The first few levels are fairly linear as they are designed to introduce what problems you’ll have to solve in the rest of the game. Security cameras, civilians, and guards all have telegraphed ranges of vision that visibly change when characters are detected. After everything’s been brought to the table, the rest of the game is much of the same in various environmental designs. This approach makes each level more a puzzle to solve than a heist to complete.

Players can choose the group of levels they prefer to tackle first

Collecting intel for further heists and collecting money are the two main goals of each level in The Masterplan, and the various methods to do this are bountiful. Whichever approach you want to take in pulling off the heist, you can implement. Holding up guards or civilians with a gun-yielding character while another beats them unconscious is surely an effective tactic. Sneaking around them to collect various keys to unlock doors containing the wealth hidden in a locked room is just as plausible. The Masterplan grants you an autonomous gameplay element to play the game however you wish — as long as the cops don’t show up.

When the cops are called, the paradigm of the puzzle shifts dramatically

Fleeing victims of each scenario will immediately run to a phone to call the police if they catch you enacting illegal activities. You’ll have 30 seconds to do what you need to do and get out of there before they pull up and the ensuing gunfight begins. It’s best to avoid this situation at all costs if you want your squad to survive the endeavor. Methods are made available to help prevent this from happening, such as finding your way to a breaker box to shut off the electricity. When in the dark, NPCs are visualized by growing green circles within the black rooms as they walk around. For a two-dimensional, top-down game, features such as these help to add yet another element to solving the puzzle.

Slow-Mo mode can give players a few more seconds to assess the situation

This is about as far as The Masterplan gets in mechanics. After the first 5 or 6 levels, the rest of the game is more of the same in different locations. Discovering different weapons to purchase and employing a not-so-distinctive group of extra cronies to aid in your thievery can only satiate a player’s desire for progress for a limited time. Once the features of the game are explored, each level becomes more stale even with the increasingly difficult problem-solving skills required in later levels.

When in doubt, blow it up

The Masterplan has an appropriate art direction for the nature of the top-down game, but the visuals aren’t enough to maintain a genuine interest in finishing the game to see the outcome. Time spent playing and discovering how to best utilize the game’s mechanics is worthwhile, but the adrenaline rush from the uncertainty of each level quickly wears thin once you grasp the methodology.

Don’t expect a masterpiece, but an experience that’ll rack your brain more than once. If you prefer the satisfaction of solving a puzzle rather than the rush of robbing an Arcade, The Masterplan might be something worth your time.

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Originally published at www.entertainmentbuddha.com on November 3, 2015.